In New Year plea, Obama urges Israel, PA to push ahead

PM reportedly wants accord to be phased in over 30-40 years; Abbas says he’ll "pack his bags" if pressed for concessions on core issues.

obama pointing 311 (photo credit: AP)
obama pointing 311
(photo credit: AP)
US President Barack Obama, in a Rosh Hashana message on Tuesday, urged Israelis and Palestinians to “move beyond their differences and work towards security and peace in the Holy Land.”
But his upbeat pledge to “encourage and support progress” came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued some of his bleakest statements to date, vowing “to pack my bags and leave” the peace table if he is pressured to make any concessions at all on core issues.
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Meanwhile, Channel 2 reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be travelling to Sharm e-Sheikh next week, for the second round of direct talks with the Palestinians, to promote the idea of finishing a framework peace agreement in a year but implementing it over a period of 30 to 40 years.
The TV report, based on senior Palestinian sources who accompanied Abbas to the re-launch of direct talks in Washington last week, dovetails with statements Netanyahu has made over the past several months in which he has talked about how any future agreement would have to be implemented over time.
At a speech in March in Washington to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Netanyahu said that any peace agreement must include an “Israeli presence on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state. If peace with the Palestinians proves its durability over time, we can review security arrangements.”
In an interview in July on Fox News, Netanyahu said that while he thought an Israeli- Palestinian agreement could be reached by 2012, he added, “It may be implemented over time, because time is an important factor of getting the solution, both in terms of security arrangements and other things that would be difficult if they’re not allowed to take place over time.”
And that same month, during a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Netanyahu elaborated on this theme, saying time was a crucial dimension to any future agreement.
“Time is a crucial element both for security and for other critical elements of a solution. It has – it’s a great facilitator of change. And if you build in a time factor to any type of solution that we have, I think it would help enormously,” he said.
The premise behind this approach is that if difficult issues are resolves over decades, certain hurdles might be removed. For instance, dependent on what else is happening in the field, removing settlements may be more palatable to the public if it occurs over 30 years rather than immediately.
A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said he has heard Netanyahu speak about reaching a framework agreement within a year, and then implementing it over a period of time. The source said, however, he never heard Netanyahu discuss spreading the process over 30-40 years.
PA threatens to pull out of talks if building freeze ends
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority leaders continued on Tuesday to issue threats that they would pull out of the direct talks with Israel if the 10- month-old freeze on new construction in the settlements, which expires on September 26, is not extended.
The PA’s threats, which began almost immediately after last week’s ceremony in Washington to launch the direct talks, are seen by many Palestinians as an attempt to absorb growing criticism of Abbas’s decision to enter the negotiations unconditionally.
In a series of interviews with Palestinian and Arab media outlets since the Washington ceremony, Abbas and a number of senior PA officials endorsed a tough stance vis-àvis the peace talks.
In separate interviews with the Palestinian dailies Al-Quds and Al-Ayyam, Abbas said he would walk out of the direct talks with Israel if the freeze was not extended later this month.
Abbas also threatened to dismantle the PA if he reached the conclusion that the talks would lead nowhere.
Moreover, Abbas emphasized that he would rather quit than make any concessions to Israel.
“If I come under pressure to make concessions on any of the core issues, including borders and security, I will pack my bags and leave,” he warned. “I won’t stay to sign an agreement that includes making even one concession on our basic rights.”
Rejecting Netanyahu’s talk about a “historic compromise,” the PA leader said that as far as the Palestinians were concerned, there would be no compromises on core issues such as Jerusalem, borders or the “right of return” for refugees.
He also categorically rejected Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
"We’re not talking about a Jewish state and we won’t talk about one,” Abbas said in an interview with the semi-official Al-Quds newspaper. “For us, there is the State of Israel, and we won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”
Abbas said that in recent meetings with leaders of the Jewish community in the US, he made it clear that the Palestinians would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“I told them that this is their business and that they are free to call themselves whatever they want,” Abbas said. “But [I told them] you can’t expect us to accept this.”
Abbas said that by raising the issue of Israel’s right to be a Jewish state, Netanyahu was seeking to “strip” Israeli-Arabs of their rights and turn them into illegal citizens. He said that Netanyahu’s goal was also to block any chance of Palestinian “refugees” from returning to their original homes inside Israel.
Asked about the possibility of dismantling the PA, Abbas said he did not rule out such an option if he reached the conclusion that the peace talks were hopeless. However, he stressed that this option was not on the table at present.
In an interview with a Kuwaiti newspaper on Tuesday, Abbas lashed out at the Arab countries, saying they recently pledged some $500 million to help “preserve Jerusalem’s Arab and Islamic character,” but had since failed to give them even one cent.
“This is a real scandal,” Abbas was quoted as saying. “We’ve heard a lot of rhetoric from the Arab world about Jerusalem and the holy sites there, but we haven’t received one cent to support the case of Jerusalem or the Palestinian Authority.”
Abbas said that if there were some Arabs who wanted to fight Israel, the Palestinians would be the first to join them.
However, he cautioned those Arabs against using the Palestinians to fight Israel.
“The blessed intifada of 2000 destroyed us and all what we built and what was built before us,” Abbas said.
Saeb Erekat, the chief PA negotiator, also threatened on Tuesday that the Palestinians would pull out of the negotiations if the freeze is not extended later this month. He said that September 26 would be Israel’s “first serious test” with regards to its intention to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
“This date could either destroy the negotiations or revive them,” he added.
US continues trying to foster 'positive environment' for talks
In response to the Palestinians’ comments Tuesday, a US State Department official called on the parties to “promote an environment that is conducive to negotiations.”
“As we move forward, it is important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it,” the official said. “As we have said, negotiations should be characterized by good faith and a commitment to their success, which will bring a better future to all the people of the region.”
Media reports also said that Abbas had asked the United States to intercede with Israel over the settlement issue, to which the State Department official noted US officials were in frequent contact with both sides and would be strongly supporting the talks.
“As both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have said, the United States pledges its full support to the parties in these talks,” the official said. “We will put our full weight behind these negotiations, standing by the parties as they make the difficult decisions necessary to secure a better future for their citizens.”
In response to remarks from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that his party would try to block any extension of Israel’s settlement moratorium, the official said, “As we have repeatedly stated, as we move forward, it is important that actions by all sides help to advance the effort toward achieving peace, not hinder it.”
Despite the impassioned words on both sides, Obama sounded an optimistic note in his annual Rosh Hashana greetings.
“Progress will not come easy, it will not come quick.
But today we have an opportunity to move forward, toward the goal we share – two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” he said in a videotaped message.
“At a time when Israelis and Palestinians have returned to direct dialogue, it is up to us to encourage and support those who are willing to move beyond their differences and work towards security and peace in the Holy Land,” he said.
Obama concluded by quoting the verse of Ecclesiastes that refers to “a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”
“In this season of repentance and renewal, let us commit ourselves to a more hopeful future,” he said.
Obama was set to hold a conference call with American rabbis soon after press time.
Later in the day, US Vice President Joe Biden was to host a Rosh Hashana reception at his residence.